Friday, December 11, 2009

How good is Manny Harris?

Yesterday, I wrote, "Despite his full stat sheet, Harris is simply a really good role player forced into the star's spotlight because Michigan lacks one. Sure, triple doubles and gaudy numbers and all that, Harris is kind of an everyman; he's a more talented Zack Novak (or an NBA equivlanet, and a personal favorite of mine, JR Smith--capable of exceptional highs but also "He did what?"-inducing lows), which is great if that's what he's supposed to do. But Harris is supposed to be the leader and the stud of the team. He's not that."

I've been known to get out of my head about some things, and anyone who knows me well will tell you that when I get on something, it's tough to argue me off of it. (Such an accusation was made when I wrote The Jordan Kovacs problem, something that I feel kind of bad for writing but a sentiment I still fully support. Watching Kovacs play hurts my brain.) In any case, I figured that most people would disagree with my feelings toward Harris and I wanted to explore Harris' game and my feelings a little more before everyone wrote me off as a quack.

The more I thought about it, the more apt a foil JR Smith became for Harris. Both have an exceptional set of skills and athleticism, and both have the ability to carry a team on any given night. But their sporadic play relegates them to one of role player and not overwhelming star.

The biggest correlation between the two is that when they're on the floor, they play for themselves. This isn't supposed to be as heavy a slight as it probably sounds. Harris shouldn't be expected to distribute constantly as a) he's a small forward and b) he's a scorer at heart. But there's a difference between having the ball in your hands and scoring within a system, and having the ball in your hands and scoring to score. One of the big complaints of Harris' game has always been his tendency to take bad shots, and it's something he hasn't yet grown out of. You can almost tell, when Harris is standing at the top of the key eyeing down a defender, that he's going to put up a contested three. Manny makes up his mind long before the play happens. And this goes a long way toward his non-star stature.

This typifies some of the issues with Michigan's offense this year. The team has been unwilling to take what the defense has been giving them, instead opting for contested threes. Against Utah, in the first possession of the game, Michigan nearly turned the ball over twice because of a Utah defender overplaying the pass, something they continued to do the entire game. And yet Michigan rarely used backcuts and ball fakes to get these drives to the lane. When they did, they usually worked, freeing players to get to the basket to either get fouled or blocked--the issues here are another problem altogether and far too difficult and divergent to address right now.

Back to Harris though. For all of his athleticism, Harris is decidedly unimposing physically. ESPN has him listed at 6'5" and a meager 185 lbs., which seems about right. Given Harris' tendency to play for himself, his lack of size is a strike against him. Bigger players with a similar mindset are often able to finish stronger, get to the lane easier, and can truly dominate against competition. Manny is unable to really take over, partially for this reason. If his shot isn't falling (and this year it hasn't been) his strength and size limit his ability to get to the basket.

And when he does get there and is met by two or three defenders, he rarely makes the right play: finding an open teammate for an easy shot. Now, this year has been a difficult to pick up assists because, well, Michigan can't hit shots, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't make the right play. This is where Harris As Star really falls apart for me: Stars make their teammates better and Harris rarely does so. I'm not expecting him to run the point because that's not his position, but he doesn't flow with this team, working within their system. Simplistically, DeShawn Sims is the post presence and all the other players are the three point shooters, except Harris, who's schizophrenic and often plays with blinders on. But whatever the case, Harris seems to transcend Beilein's system and work on his own set of rules.

I'm not trying to imply that Harris isn't good. He's an incredible scorer and dynamic player, capable of single-handedly beating teams. But I hesitate to heap endless praise on him when he frequently fails to live up to the hype and seems generally more interested in scoring than team oriented. I'd rather have Harris than not, and when he leaves the team, Michigan is going to be in trouble, searching for someone who can score like he can, but I'm just not sold.


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